A review on "Carta blanca"
AFTER READING JUST THE FIRST PAGE of Carta blanca we know that, in spite of some very general similarities regarding foreign legionnaires, this is not going to be another Beau Geste (1924). Lorenzo Silva replaces Percival Wren’s exoticism and romance with stark realism best designated as neotremendista. Additionally, the list of references at the end of the novel reveals that factual accuracy underpins his imagination and that what he learned about the role of the Spanish Legion in Morocco forced him to describe the indescribable. According to the author, soldiers of the Spanish Foreign Legion had carte blanche (carta blanca) to plunder Berber settlements suspected of collaboration with the insurgency that resisted the foreign occupiers. Officers tolerated the unofficial practice, known in legionnaire vernacular as salir de razia , literally, "to go on a plundering spree." The tripartite story begins in 1921 when the protagonist, Juan Faura, goes plundering with five other comrades. The home of the shepherd family that the soldiers break into becomes a living hell: screaming children clinging to their parents and relatives; a young girl and a woman in her thirties gang-raped; another woman bayonetted to death; an elderly man and two boys with slit throats; and, to complete the slasher scene, a man whose penis they sever. Moreover, upon reading these atrocities, it becomes clear that the author recounts them out of a deep sense of rage. And although the crimes do not compare to those of the Japanese in China, documented by Iris Chang in her convulsant The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997), they do bring to mind what some of our troops did during the war in Vietnam and, more recently, in Iraq. Wisely, the author tempers the depravities of the first section of the novel with an erotic interlude that comprises the second section. Faura, now separated from the legion, and Blanca, his exlover, now married, take up where they left off twelve years earlier. As in Entre naranjos (1901) by Blasco Ibáñez, here too the sensuous Valencian milieu serves as a reagent for the erotica that follows. Whereas Vicente Blasco Ibáñez depended on suggestion for his seduction scene, Silva opts for full disclosure. The final section of the novel finds Juan Faura defending the Republic at the outbreak of the Spanish civil War in 1936. Gravely wounded, Juan is approached by two enemy combatants, one a legionnaire who recognizes him, the other a Moorish mercenary who is poised to cut his throat. What transpires in the next few moments defies all logic, except that of a legionnaire. Silva avoids demonizing. When the boot is on the other foot, so to speak, the Moors rape and kill Spaniards. Carta blanca is a cautionary tale that exposes the utter absurdity of war and the unspeakable evils it unchains.
David Ross Gerling
Sam Houston State University
World Literature Today, May-August 2005
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Copyright, Lorenzo Silva 2000-2005